Blurry stars illustrate navigating change

Navigating Change

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Jay Smith, YTI President and Bridger Professor of Theology & Ethics

July 3, 2018

There is a constant in life, and that constant is “change.” People, animals, and plants are constantly changing and navigating change. If we were honest, we would admit that life itself is but for a season. Indeed, we tend to view life in three very different ways, with each view dictating our need to navigate change.

Three Views of Life

There are three ways to view this truth. First, life itself is an “unwanted burden.” Over time it is a roller-coaster ride between disappointment and success, with an ever-deepening depression due to unrealized dreams.

The second view of life is as a “gift,” filled with endless possibility, hope, and love. Not immune from disappointment or tragedy, this view of life is resilient. It seeks routes to overcome these obstacles and to find meaning in existence.

The third view is simple ambivalence. Uncertain and indecisive, this view of life seeks momentary pleasure, often at the expense of other people, animals, and the earth-in-general. It seeks possibility but is often mired in depression.

The life of ambivalence is the life embraced by most people in a consumption driven Western culture. The general ethos of our culture has become focused on the material, where many—if not most—people find meaning and solace in consumption, pleasure, and power. This culture is especially susceptible to depression and desperation as goals go unrealized and the consequences of actions take a toll on life.

Change Is the Constant

In each of these views of life, change is the constant. Our approach to navigating change becomes crucial to understanding and creating true, enduring meaning in life.

There is one salient and difficult point in the quest for true and dependable navigation. Navigation requires a fixed point from which to chart a course. For the earliest wayfarers, the stars—and more specifically, Polaris, the northern “pole” star—were the constant by which travelers charted their courses. The northern star was their true guide, and even in our technology-driven society, basic land navigation continues to use the northern star as a fixed guide.

So what is the fixed guide that can lead our modern world? What is the constant that helps us in navigating change in a world in constant flux?

Fixed Guides for Navigating Change

In our modern culture, science has been enthroned as the “pole star.” Problematically, science is just as corruptible as any other man-made philosophy. It is continually being corrupted and manipulated by those who seek wealth, pleasure, and power. It cannot provide love, mercy, forgiveness, or everlasting hope.

A secondary “pole star” is religion. Religion is a common factor in all cultures. It differs from ethnic group to ethnic group, with only a few religious expressions encompassing a variety of ethnicities. As a “pole star,” religion is susceptible to the baser impulses of greed, lust, pride, and power. Nevertheless, religion is oriented to a greater power, a greater ideal, and a greater good than humankind can achieve on its own. The constellation of religious expressions in our world call this power God, YHWH, Allah, Shiva, Brahma, and Vishnu, among others. Buddhism is the only religion that seeks a concept—‘enlightenment’—as the guiding principle of life.

Successful Navigation in a Changing World

A 2016 Pew Forum poll on “Religion in Everyday Life” states, “people who are highly religious are more engaged with their extended families, more likely to volunteer, more involved in their communities, and generally happier with the way things are going in their lives.”

It would be possible to conclude then that those people who believe in God are more likely to be successfully navigating change in their lives. These are the men and women who view life as a gift to be cherished. They find hope to be real, and know love is to be shared. Change is not a daunting conflict to be feared, but rather an opportunity to be embraced and a challenge to be faced.

The Primacy of God in Our World

Christianity is a monotheistic and Trinitarian religion. Christians believe in one God, who has been revealed to humankind through Jesus of Nazareth. The one God is the Father, the ground of all being, who has revealed God-self to us in Jesus. He is made eternally and continually known to all through the indwelling love and power of the Holy Spirit.

The Triune God enables all those who believe to navigate the harshest moments in life with grace, hope, and love. Suffering, a condition endemic to all human beings, is understood as identification with God—who is love—who gave His life, so that we could live in defiance of the suffering we experience.

Christians—followers of Christ—do not believe that other religious expressions are somehow “less.” They are not ultimately to be defeated and discarded in favor of the Christian life. Rather, other religious adherents are fellow human beings who must be loved, befriended, forgiven, and shown mercy as a witness to God’s love for all of creation. That in itself is a witness to our world of the primacy of God for our world.

A Reliable Guide in a Changing World

This is not a repudiation or denunciation of science or any other world religion. It simply puts our lives in perspective.

Science, as a tool of reason, enables human beings to understand how the cosmos functions. However, it is not equipped to explain ultimate origins, construct meaningful moral systems, or give people hope in times of national despair. It can give us the tools to implement change, but it can’t give us the courage to navigate change.

The world’s religions are evidence that human beings are looking for meaningful existence and a guide for navigating change in life. Christianity uniquely posits God as personal, guiding humanity in love, with mercy and grace. Christianity respects and appreciates not only science, but also the religious impulse of humanity. It enables people to love one another and guides them through the change that is endemic to our world.